That's the advice of a prominent scientist at the Seattle Children's Research Institute who led a major new study believed to be the first to examine screen time and kids with a view to violent and non-violent content, afternoon versus evening viewing, and solitary viewing or with parents.
Many parents would agree that preschoolers who watch programming containing violence would be more likely to experience sleep disturbances from nightmares to frequent waking and daytime fatigue. But the study of more than 600 Seattle children aged three to five found that even child-oriented programming seen after 7 p.m. was linked to increased sleep problems.
"I think most parents are aware that some media programming is or isn't appropriate for young children, but it can be a shock to realize that even highquality children's programming like Sesame Street just isn't a good idea near bedtime," epidemiologist Michelle Garrison said in an email to the Times Colonist. "Since we as adults often turn to TV for relaxation, it's easy to assume that it's also a calming experience for young children - but those 'zoned-out,' glazed-over faces that young children often get while watching TV are often a sign of a brain that's over-stimulated and overwhelmed, not relaxed."
As for TV violence, it didn't matter whether the children saw isolated violence or no violence, fantasy violence, sports violence, mild or slapstick violence or realistic violence - before bedtime it was associated with sleep disturbance. That's because children aged three to five do not distinguish between animated and live-action violence, sports, slapstick or fantasy violence, says the study, published in the journal Pediatrics.
"A show that's really funny for an eight-year-old can be frightening and overwhelming for a fouryear-old," says Garrison, who works at the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at the institute.
Sleep deprivation has a huge impact on children's health, Garrison attests.
"In the short term, inadequate sleep in young children has been associated with increased behaviour problems and injury risks. In the longer term, poor sleep during early childhood is linked to later increased depression and anxiety, overweight and obesity, and poor grades and test scores in school."
Garrison says even watching age-appropriate shows with parents can be too stimulating for young children at the time their brains should be unwinding.
"It's like their minds are speeding up so they can keep up with the fast pace of the show without missing anything. As adults, most of us have learned how to help our minds slow down and relax, but young children haven't learned that skill yet. As a result, they really need their parents to take control and provide a calm, quiet environment before bedtime."
Although many parents put a TV in their tots' bedrooms to facilitate sleep, it's linked to the opposite. Previous studies have linked bedroom TVs to consumption of more media and increased sleep problems, she says.
That could be due to frightening content, displacement of "more soothing bedtime rituals" and brightly lit screens that disrupt the production of melatonin, a hormone linked to sleep rhythms, the study says.
Ten per cent of the 612 children whose parents kept screentime records had bedroom TVs, 55 per cent of them boys and 18 per cent were from low-income homes.
Nearly one in five of the families reported a sleep disturbance from five to seven nights a week from delayed onset of sleep, waking more than once a night, waking from nightmares, daytime fatigue and prolonged lack of alertness in the morning.
Parents who filled out the sleep data reported an average daily screen time of 73 minutes, nearly 59 before 7 p.m. and 14 after 7 p.m. But the authors suggest that parents under-reported total viewing time and violent content, and over-reported watching with adults. email@example.com